We all know we are supposed to back up our computers and follow security precautions to keep ourselvesfreelance tech frustration and our clients’ information safe. At the August Freelance Austin meeting Ask a Geek: Your Burning Tech Questions Answered, I covered some of the main errors freelancers should avoid to keep business running smoothly. For those that didn’t make it, here’s a rundown of some of the most important information you missed.

Logistically speaking, there isn’t anything exciting or sexy about this topic. It boils down to good habits and whether you are practicing them or not. More importantly, there is a significant productivity issue at play when considering your backup and security habits.

As freelance professionals, your inability to work because your computer is unavailable not only brings added expense due to repair costs but also incurs lost billable time and opportunity costs if you can’t reply to new business. If we start talking about your clients’ data being lost or compromised, well, let’s just say productivity is no longer an issue because you probably don’t have that client anymore.

I’m going to break down a few of these issues and offer some suggestions to help you stay productive by keeping up with your backup and security habits. It’s likely you’re committing one or several (or all) of the following sins.

  1. You’re not backing up. Nothing can keep you productive in the face of a disaster better than a good backup solution. Your solution should allow you to restore your computer quickly or bring it up virtually so that you can continue to work while your computer problem is addressed. Therefore, you should have an image-based backup of your computer so that you can recover quickly.There are many solutions to choose from. For devices running Windows, I like StorageCraft’s ShadowProtect. Mac users have a very nice option with Time Machine. These types of back up programs will normally go to an external hard drive because they backup everything; your operating system, applications, and files.If you’re wondering about cloud backup, that is a great addition to keep your files extra safe. First things first: Dropbox, Google Drive, and other file sync application can be great…but they are not file backup solutions. Even having some versioning features does not protect you from damaged files being synced to your cloud solution and being left with garbage everywhere. A backup will make a point-in-time copy of your files and keep them safe. So, a couple good cloud backup options would be CrashPlan and Backblaze. In a total disaster, if you lost your computer and the external hard drive, your data files would be safe in the cloud.
  2. You’re not running anti-virus and anti-malware. Mac users who think they can skip this section, know you are doing it at your own risk. The days of Mac immunity are gone. Modern viruses and malware are not just annoyances written by bored teenagers looking to make a name for themselves in the hacker community. Today’s nasty software is often written by organized crime with the intent of making money exploiting your computer and/or data. There is no silver bullet (unless you are willing to disconnect from the Internet forever) so the name of the game is precaution and risk mitigation.I’m often asked, “What is the best anti-virus for my computer?” My answer today may be different tomorrow. The security world is an ever-changing landscape, so don’t get hung up on chasing the best software. Pick a trusted vendor and keep the software up-to-date. I like Webroot and ESET for both Windows and Mac. More importantly, don’t open unknown or suspicious email attachments. If something is really important, the sender will find a way to contact you and confirm you received their message. Same goes for websites. Do you really need to know what happened to another Kardashian? No anti-virus software will protect your computer 100%. You still need to be diligent about safe computing.
  3. You’re oversharing while working remotely. Connecting to wireless networks is the specific concern. As a freelance professional, it is likely you work in various environments. Let’s say you visit a coffee shop and jump onto the “free wireless” provided. How do you know that you’re really connected to the coffee shop’s wireless and not someone else’s hotspot hijacking the name of the coffee shop?Taking a worst case scenario, you connect to a compromised wireless network, log in to a client’s system and start performing some work. Your keystrokes – including passwords, sensitive server locations, and other tasty morsels of information – are captured by the compromised network and you have breached your client’s data. Gulp! I’ll cross my fingers and hope none of you ever experience this nightmare. Protect yourself by investing in a larger data plan with your mobile phone provider. Most smartphones can now act as hotspots so you can be sure you are using a known network. If you are visiting with another freelancer in a co-working space, visiting your client’s office or in a non-public environment with protected wireless access then you should be fairly confident using that network. In the end, better safe than sorry, so use your best judgement and don’t hesitate to pull out your mobile hotspot or smartphone.
  4. You’re ignoring your software udpates. Last, but definitely not least, install the software updates for your operating system and most used applications. The majority of the updates Microsoft and Apple release for their operating systems are for security reasons. As mentioned earlier, security is constantly changing as new vulnerabilities are found. Even though I’m mentioning this last, it should be at the top of your list. Don’t skip this!

Backup and security habits are the foundation of keeping your computer healthy, functional, and—ultimately—productive.

Our monthly Freelance Austin meetings always tackle subjects of interest to local freelancers. Our next one, on Political Gigs for Freelance Communicators, is coming up fast on September 9 at Tech Ranch Austin. Register to attend so you don’t miss out.

LuAnn Glowacz